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Providing winning solutions for horse management and the environment since 1997

Horses Get Winter Blues Too

Alayne Blickle

Yes, the weather can be frightful as increasing darkness and cold temperatures descend upon many of us around the country. We thought this might be a good time to revisit some of the different ways that you and your horses can beat the winter blues, before boredom (and possibly vices) take hold.

Food for Thought. Research shows that horses left to their own devices will eat 18 or more hours per day. Being stuck in a stall or small paddock with little other stimulation except twice a day feedings can cause a horse more than just boredom. It can cause real health issues and subsequent vet bills from problems such as weight gain, bickering or fighting that result in injuries, ulcers, colic, and stall vices, such as chewing or weaving. Here are a few ideas to stretch out feedings:

  • Make or buy a slow feeder
  • Increase feedings to three or more times per day
  • If you have a large paddock area, station food in different places to encourage your horse to move around
  • Make a 'slow-treat' carrot "sputnik" by covering a ball tightly with a hay net, securely sticking in carrots, then hanging it with baling twine
  • Hang food items like turnips or apples from twine for creative (and longer lasting) treats
  • Fill a used food-safe jug that you've cut holes in with pelleted feed and hang, or let your horse roll it around until it dispenses the food
  • Install a store-bought horse lick that has been filled with a salty or sugary substance
  • Buy or make a horse 'treat dispenser' puzzle

Room to Roam. One of the best ways to reduce boredom is to provide turnout time in a safe, dry area where your horse can run, buck or roll to relieve stress. Other ways to help engage your horse's mind and relieve stress might include:

  • Buy a kick toy like the ball above, or a large arena ball, such as the ones used to play horse soccer
  • Enlist the help of a trainer to improve your horse's ground training or other skills - having a scheduled time can help motivate us to move more
  • Keep things fresh by not practicing the same exercises over and over
  • Hang or include toys in your horse's living quarters like a jolly ball with a rope that he can carry around or twirl. Or maybe a plastic jug 'noise maker' filled with small rocks, arena cones, soccer balls, lightweight barrels or anything else your horse will engage with and find interesting and 'fun'
  • Check catalogs, the internet or YouTube for innovative toys to make or buy
  • Teach your horse tricks. There are lots of good books available for training tricks

Companionship. If there is one thing herd animals loathe, it is being alone. Simulating a comforting sense of herd can keep confinement time calmer. Some ideas to help achieve this are:

  • Redo solid stall walls or doors so that horses can see each other, or at least stick their heads out and check out the goings on in their environment
  • Turn their stall into a "room with a view" by utilizing french doors or stall guards to the outside, which will also help with barn ventilation
  • Companions such as goats can help provide a sense of herd, plus they can keep horses entertained with their playful antics
  • Mirror-mirror? Install a horse-safe mirror positioned so that your horse can see himself and preen, or can see others
  • Keep a radio turned on when horses have to be locked inside

Feed the senses. Feeling safe and relaxed is a step toward a tranquil soul. Below are some tactile and calming ideas for you and your horse. Many of these items or services would make wonderful holiday gifts for that special horse, or horse-owner friend in your life that you appreciate and rely upon.

  • Try a horse massage. Seeing a horse hypnotized by a good massage is not only rewarding, but relieves the stress of tight, cold or sore muscles that can develop from too much standing around
  • Heat packs increase circulation and work well for the same reasons as massage - search for different types and beneficial ways to apply them
  • Spend time grooming. This can help a horse psychologically as well as physiologically by lowering heart rate - and you otherwise might not notice new cuts, bumps or scratches and attend to them promptly. Grooming also keeps the coat clean and fluffy, enabling it to better insulate your horse
  • Dream. Make plans for training, riding schedules, competitions, projects, vacations, or whatever it is you truly want to accomplish with your horse in the coming year

Happy Solstice, from all of us at Horses for Clean Water!